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Windows Media Player gets a face-lift in version 11

Windows Media Player gets a face-lift in version 11

I love my Mac, but after seeing Microsoft's Windows Media Player (WMP) 11 demo today, I'm tempted to switch back to Windows. The biggest news related to this announcement that's been circulating CES has been Microsoft's partnership with MTV and its new Urge music service, but I'm most excited about WMP's new, very visually appealing look and feel. Besides, Microsoft's reps had to defer to MTV, which will be holding a press conference in New York later this year, for most Urge-related queries, so I didn't learn much about the service. What I can tell you is that it's visually stimulating and appears to be well organized.

But back to the WMP interface. The latest version takes a page from the iTunes book, focusing more on simplicity and ease of use and less on massive numbers of features, though there's still plenty of that. Microsoft did away with most of the options in the left-hand navigation tree, opting to place emphasis on music instead of offering a huge menu of video, TV, and music all at once. (You can still access video content by activating a separate menu.) In the main viewing pane, music content is organized visually by album art, which you can resize to your liking. Along the top, WMP keeps the Now Playing, Library, Rip, Sync, and Burn buttons, but they're all split keys--the bottom halves offer contextual menus for each option. There's also a prominent search box, which made very quick work of the 10,000-song library in the demo. On the bottom, you get pleasing, bubbly playback buttons.

When it comes to devices, Microsoft's mantra is still choice. More than 100 devices are now PlaysForSure compatible, meaning that they'll work seamlessly within WMP. When you plug in your device in version 11, a little image of your player pops up above the sync bucket, and you get a "gas gauge" that lets you see how much space is left. If you're feeling too lazy to pick out songs yourself, you can let WMP do the work for you. It will select a variety of songs from your library (biased toward higher ratings) and, if applicable, from whatever service you subscribe to. And every time you use this option, the selection of songs changes--an appealing feature for people who aren't interested in spending valuable time hand-selecting several gigabytes of tunes (me). The aforementioned gauge also applies to CD burning; in fact, WMP 11 will even split long playlists into time-optimized groups so that you can burn several CDs in succession. Finally, and perhaps best of all, version 11 performs much better than version 10 (on Vista at least). The Microsoft rep scrolled through 10,000 tracks without so much as a hiccup, and the search box worked practically instantaneously, narrowing results as each letter was typed. Check back soon for screenshots.